School board considers ideas to help Prime Six Schools

Parent education, teacher recruitment and new academic programs such as Montessori and dual language are a few of the proposals to help break the “social isolation” of six elementary schools in West Las Vegas.

Clark County School District officials developed a package of proposals in response to a warning from researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles that these schools are in growing danger of triple segregation by race, poverty and the language barrier.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes and the School Board will discuss the proposed strategies during the board’s regular meeting Thursday night.

School officials also recognize that many problems are beyond their control. They will need to collaborate with outside agencies and organizations to confront social issues such as homelessness and the lack of affordable health care.

But one challenge, the growing number of limited-English-speaking students, could work to the district’s advantage.

UCLA professor Gary Orfield has suggested a “dual language program” for West Las Vegas so that primarily Spanish-speaking students could help English-speaking students learn Spanish and vice versa.

The influx of English-speaking students would bring much needed diversity to the schools of West Las Vegas, which is considered to be bordered by Rancho Drive to the west, Interstate 15 to the east, Bonanza Road to the south and Carey Avenue to the north.

The so-called Prime Six Schools — Booker, Carson, Fitzgerald, Kelly, McCall and Wendell Williams — would all be considered for new academic programs.

By offering incentives such as dual language, Montessori and pre-International Baccalaureate — a rigorous college preparatory program — the schools could attract more students from outside the neighborhood.

Other schools in West Las Vegas already offer magnet programs. Students from West Las Vegas also have the opportunity to go to schools outside their community.

Because of the specialized programs and federal funding for schools serving low-income students, the six elementary schools in West Las Vegas collectively receive $2.4 million more in funding than other schools in the district.

District officials said they want to review all funding and academic programs before they go forward with a new plan. The school district is also applying for a new $250,000 federal grant to help fund new programs.

Because some of the six elementary schools are under-capacity, officials also plan to study the best use of facilities.

Marzette Lewis of the Westside Action Alliance Korps-Uplifting People (WAAK-UP) liked many of the proposed strategies especially because her group has advocated many of the same ideas in the past.

“This is nothing new,” Lewis said. “We’ve been saying this all along.”

As the UCLA report found that these schools were being served by a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers, Lewis also wants to recruit and retain better teachers and administrators.

Lewis said she would oppose any “forced bussing” plan, which is not one of proposed solutions.

She suggested another idea that the superintendent has not proposed — a “swing shift school” that would operate between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

“I would like to see a child in school while his mother is at work,” Lewis said.

It would help family life if parents could spend more of their free time with their children, she said. School officials have recognized the need to support parents, who can then help their children be better students.

The plan proposes more parent outreach and “active engagement” with the community, such as getting feedback through surveys and focus groups.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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